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What is Jargon?

July 29, 2010

Are these jargon?

Foreign words
Barclays Bank changed ‘bureau de change’ to ‘travel money’ well done – one up for plain English. However, a coffee machine I used recently didn’t dispense coffee at all. I could have latte, mocha, cappuccino or Americano but alas, no coffee. The score is even again.
‘Blue sky thinking’ and ‘out of the box thinking’ are just rather tired expressions. Most people understand them but nobody is impressed.

‘Innocent victims’ irritates me because the ‘innocent’ is a knee-jerk word that is always associated with the victims of anything, so it adds nothing to our understanding. Being a victim does not make a person innocent of everything; on the other hand it is axiomatic that they are innocent of the outrage in question.

‘Ballpark’ is what exactly? We don’t talk about ballparks in the UK except in expressions like ‘can you give me a ballpark figure?’ We have playing fields and football pitches – so let’s start talking about a football pitch figure, it is just as logical and a lot more original.

Industry shorthand
It is inevitable and perfectly acceptable that people use jargon with other people who know what it means. We all use short cuts. The trouble is that we can dupe ourselves into thinking that we know what it means (or not have the courage to ask) when everyone else is playing the same game.

“How were we to know that a plausible-sounding financial instrument such as a ‘CDO’ might, in practice, involve taking a stake in a loan to a hillbilly living in a trailer park in Arkansas?” (Financial Jargon? We’re all none the wiser Times online Jan 09)

“The most effective bosses recognise that one of the keys to engaging, motivating and enthusing people is to communicate in a way which everyone can easily understand.” (Workplace jargon isolates staff BBC website November 2006)

Well, we can all agree with that – but is anyone suggesting that it is easy to do? What language is there that “everyone” can understand easily?

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